Time to Dump Cheney?
Television personality/professor Larry Sabato argues that John Edwards is a very weak vice presidential candidate, except as compared with Dick Cheney:
To put it bluntly, Cheney has blown it. One would have expected a classic Washington establishment insider to know how to keep his reputation intact through innumerable controversies–calling the “right” people here, consulting the “wise” men and women of D.C. there, taking the puffed-up press poobahs of the Capital City to lunch at the White House here and there. Anybody recall how Henry Kissinger came out of the Nixon sleaze and the Vietnam disaster smelling like a bouquet of yellow roses–at least with the bunch that counts in D.C. and New York–despite the fact that he was in both situations up to his eyeballs?
Instead of being Kissinger, Cheney has been Nixon in the Bush term. He has hunkered down in the White House and “undisclosed locations.” He’s been uncommunicative with the broader public and unconcerned about his image until it’s too late. He’s often appeared to be the sinister puppeteer, pulling Bush’s strings on critical matters like Iraq. He’s more associated with the Halliburton scandal than anything else in the public mind. And most importantly from a political standpoint, Dick Cheney is now seen as a rigid ideologue, unconcerned about facts that do not fit into his preconceived notions of the world, too closely tied to the far right and too unacceptable to the voters as a whole to be what he once was: workable standby equipment, a potential president who could take office with popular support.
In short, Cheney has failed his president and become a significant liability.
Sabato notes the irony that Cheney is considered a liability while Edwards is viewed as a plus:
And look at the results of that failure in the 2004 campaign. It has permitted John Kerry to choose a governmental lightweight, and be praised for it. John Edwards’s single term of office in the Senate has been remarkably undistinguished, noted mainly for his overweening ambition. Just one-and-a-half years into his sole elective office–which he had won narrowly–Edwards was the runner-up for veep in Al Gore’s search. Having been bitten by the presidential political bug (the queen bee of the species), Edwards all but abandoned his Senate seat to seek the presidency. With a left-wing voting record and a shockingly low attendance record on roll call votes that would make any serious senator blush with embarrassment, Edwards gambled that a long-shot bid for national office would be wiser than a questionable chance at reelection to a North Carolina Senate seat that has turned over to the opposition party every six years since 1974.
Many observers have already noted the contrast between the reaction to Edwards’s selection as veep and the 1988 pick of Indiana U.S. Senator Dan Quayle by Republican presidential nominee George H.W. Bush. Quayle had served eight years in the Senate and four in the U.S. House, but he was derided as too inexperienced to be a heartbeat away from the Oval Office. The news media had a field day and produced a massive feeding frenzy that stands to this day as second only to Bill Clinton’s scandals among campaign frenzies. Yet Edwards, with half of Quayle’s office experience, was greeted with media hosannas and flowers strewn in his path. The negative media coverage for Quayle–according to political science research–likely cost the first President Bush a point or two in the final tally on Election Day 1988. The positive media coverage for Edwards has added several points to Kerry’s total so far, at least in some surveys.
In a country where most people couldn’t identify Al Gore as Vice President a few months before he was nearly elected President, the importance of the second banana spot is typically limited. Cheney, who I still very much like, has managed to become a lightning rod. As recently as February, he was doing quite well in the polls. According to Gallup,
The Feb. 16-17 poll finds 45% of Americans say they have a favorable opinion of Cheney, while 42% have an unfavorable opinion and the rest have no opinion. The same poll found President George W. Bush’s favorable ratings significantly higher than Cheney’s, at 56%.
Fifty-six percent of Americans approve of the way Cheney is handling his job as vice president, according to a mid-January Gallup Poll. Cheney’s approval ratings were higher in the early days of the Bush administration (an average of 62% in the first four months) and in the months following the Sept. 11 terrorist attacks (68% in January 2002).
Compared with other vice presidents, Cheney’s term average is quite similar to Al Gore’s (62% for Cheney and 63% for Gore), but is much higher than Dan Quayle’s, who averaged only 47% during George H.W. Bush’s administration. Gore’s highest measure was 71% in August 2000, and his lowest was 59% in March 1997. Quayle’s highest approval rating was 50% in May 1991, and his lowest was 43% in November 1989. Cheney’s highest job approval rating so far was 68% in January 2002. His lowest was the current 56% rating.
Certainly, Cheney’s approval ratings are way down: “Last month, a New York Times/CBS News poll found that 21 percent of voters had a favorable impression of Mr. Cheney, compared with 39 percent for Mr. Bush.”
Despite denials, the New York Times continues to fan speculation that he’ll be dumped in today’s edition.
The newest theory – advanced privately by prominent Democrats, including members of Congress – holds that Mr. Cheney recently dismissed his personal doctor so that he could see a new one, who will conveniently tell him in August that his heart problems make him unfit to run with Mr. Bush. The dismissed physician, Dr. Gary Malakoff, who four years ago declared that Mr. Cheney was “up to the task of the most sensitive public office” despite a history of heart disease, was dropped from Mr. Cheney’s medical team because of an addiction to prescription drugs.
“I don’t know where they get all these conspiracy theories,” said Matthew Dowd, the Bush campaign’s chief strategist, who has heard them all. “It’s inside-the-Beltway coffee talk, is all it is.” It may be inside the Beltway, but in recent days the Washington summer clamor about dropping Mr. Cheney has so greatly intensified that Mr. Cheney himself was forced to address it on Wednesday. Asked in a C-Span interview if he could envision any circumstances under which he would step aside, Mr. Cheney replied: “Well, no, I can’t. If I thought that were appropriate, I certainly would.” In the interview, to be broadcast Sunday, Mr. Cheney also said that Mr. Bush “has made very clear he doesn’t want to break up the team,” but that chatter of his stepping down was to be expected.
Still, most people who follow Bush think it’s exceedingly unlikely he’ll drop Cheney. Further, as Sabato notes, there would be political consequences for doing so:
Yet if Bush drops Cheney, the party conservatives–ever sensitive to a slight–will wail and gnash their teeth, threaten to go fishing on Election Day, and ruin any bounce Bush might get from a substitute veep. If Cheney wants Bush to win, he might want to help the process along by stepping aside. Have you stopped laughing yet? We all know that Cheney still labors under the illusion that he is a plus for Bush, and if doubts ever occur to him, the addiction of the power and the glory of high office acts quickly to banish the thought.
Cheney can read poll numbers, too. He’s ideologically committed to his vision of fighting the war on terrorism and certainly wouldn’t want to contribute to Kerry taking office. My guess is that he’d be happy to give up the criticism and low paycheck he’s now receiving if it would keep Bush in office.
One recent contribution to the buzz about Mr. Cheney came Tuesday in a column by Charlie Cook, the editor of the nonpartisan Cook Political Report. “Stipulating that dumping a totally loyal, integral part of his inner circle is something that is absolutely not in George W. Bush’s DNA, losing with plenty of notice does not appear to be part of his genetic makeup either,” Mr. Cook wrote. He concluded that in an election year as close as this one, “the president badly needs something to shake this race up, and I can think of just one thing. Cheney may need to watch his back.”
But it’s still early. Edwards is a likeable enough figure and a good speaker. One wonders, though, if people will take him seriously as a potential wartime president. The key, it seems to me, is persuading people that we’re actually a nation at war.
(Hat tip: Joe Gandleman)
Update: The White House responds.
“Yes, he will be on the ticket,” Bush spokesman Scott McClellan told reporters. “You all amaze me sometimes, playing to this kind of speculation when it was asked and answered long ago.”
McClellan was reacting to a front-page New York Times story dissecting what it called a “far-fetched” conspiracy theory racing through Washington political circles “like the latest low-carb diet.”
Which wouldn’t hurt Cheney one bit, by the way.
(Hat tip: Steven Taylor)